Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Gary Deatsman: "How I Became a Humanist"

    When I was 8 or 9 years old I was occasionally sent to Methodist Sunday School where I soon learned to associate the kindly, loving Jesus with milk and cookies. Eventually I had questions.  How could Noah possibly have gathered up animals from all over the earth and crammed them into the ark?  Also, if, as my teacher said, everything came from God, where did God come from?  The teacher could not answer.  

    I decided to take my questions to my grandmother, whose grandchildren all called Nana.  I knew that she and my grandfather attended church regularly.  I was sure that wisdom came with age and that she could explain all.  I unburdened myself to her, and I still remember her response:

    “Don’t worry about that, child.  Intelligent people aren’t religious. I’m an atheist.  I don’t believe in God.”

    “But Nana,” I said, “you go to church.”

    “That’s just for social advantages.  We don’t really believe any of it.”

    I didn’t become an atheist myself at that time, but I was aware that some people I loved were nonbelievers.  I was really troubled when we school kids suddenly had to start saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.  This seemed to imply that Nana wasn’t a good American.  Nonsense!  She was a Republican!
    Later, as a Boy Scout, I was uncomfortable pledging to do my duty to God and my country.  I thought this wasn’t fair to scouts who might be atheists.  I eventually settled into agnosticism, but remained disturbed by discrimination against nonbelievers.

    Before retiring I taught mathematics at a Catholic high school.  They had no problem with my lack of faith, and made no attempt to convert me.  As I got to know my Catholic colleagues, including priests and nuns, I was impressed with their very liberal theology.

    My duties included escorting students to mass.  I responded emotionally to the beauty of this carefully crafted ceremony.  (Perhaps I was inwardly salivating for milk and cookies.)  I took instruction and studied the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  All of my questions were answered and I resolved to end my agnostic fence sitting and make one last try at religion. I joined the Church and for two years I was the best Catholic I could be.

    One of my biggest obstacles to faith had always been the presence of misery in a world controlled by an all powerful and loving God.  The Catholic answer which satisfied me was that for some mysterious reason God cannot or will not usually intervene to prevent catastrophes.  However, He inspires humans to mitigate their effects.  We are obligated to help the misfortunate, work for peace and justice, and use science to fight disease and predict and protect from natural disasters, etc. , and in general to be the agents of God’s love on earth.  I was deeply moved by this parable:  A man died and met God.  He asked, “The world is filled with suffering.  Why don’t you do anything about it?”  God answered,  “I did.  I sent you to help.  What have you done?”

    In time, however, I began to observe a lack of divine love in some of God’s representatives, the priests.  The priest principal of our school eventually showed himself to be a bully, unethical, a thief, and a liar.  Another priest I knew was caught with child pornography on his computer.  I saw more and more examples of poor behavior by Catholics, some directed at me with traumatic effect.  Despite the many good Catholics I had known, the existence of bad ones I knew personally, the many reported in the media, and the vast multitudes recorded throughout history convinced me that not only is there no god inspiring us to do good, there is no god even able to inspire many of his closest followers to behave decently.

    I soon rejected all religion.  (I am grateful to the Catholic Church for enabling me to be comfortable as an atheist.)  I started reading Free Inquiry and decided that I am a Secular Humanist.  When my wife and I retired to the Valley we found HSGP on the internet and joined up.


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